Victims of domestic violence who are also single parents may face special challenges during the holidays. It is all too common for former partners to abuse a superior financial position by showering children with gifts to buy their affections.
One great way to deal with this difficulty is to create new, low-cost holiday traditions that are focused instead on meaningful time spent together. Whether it is playing a unique game or preparing a special homemade food item… any memorable activity done together as family can become a treasured annual tradition.
With that in mind, we asked staff and volunteers at A Woman’s Place (AWP) to share some of their favorite holiday traditions and “quality time” suggestions:
“For the last 40 years, since my daughter was one and old enough to do puzzles (very, very easy ones at the beginning) our family has always worked on a Christmas puzzle on Christmas Eve. As our kids got older the puzzles were harder and sometimes took all day – and now sometimes into Christmas – to complete. The original goal was to keep them occupied so they weren’t as antsy waiting for Santa. Although no longer antsy we all still enjoy doing our new puzzle, we also each make our favorite appetizers to snack on while we work. A puzzle is cheap and something everyone can participate in and the results are always rewarding.” – Jackie, AWP staff
“We invented a ‘Doodle Game.’ Each person uses the same crayon or colored pencil for the whole activity (but everyone has a different color). On one piece of plain, white paper, each person takes a turn drawing a short line or small shape. The lines can be straight, curly, zig-zag, wavy, etc. Shapes can be circles, squares, triangles, diamonds, crescents, hearts, stars, etc. You can connect lines or connect other people’s lines and shapes. Each person takes a turn, and the picture grows. It’s very stress relieving. It could be a picture of something, a design, or anything. Just go with it. After you are done, stick it to the refrigerator or keep in a scrapbook.” – Caroline, AWP volunteer
“We started doing an ugly ornament contest a few years ago. There are so many cheap ornaments that are absolutely hideous and funny. We have someone from the group be the judge and the winner gets their picture taken with their ornament. We have a separate little ‘bah humbug’ tree on top of a small table that holds all of our ‘uglies’ from the past years and keep the framed pics around the tree.” – Lauren, AWP staff
“We have lasagna for Christmas dinner. As a kid I was super into Garfield and on a Christmas special they had lasagna for Christmas dinner. I asked my mom if we could do that. She was tired of turkey after just having it on Thanksgiving. She also had this idea that ham is for Easter so she figured “why not?” After that she realized it’s easier to prepare AND that you can make it in advance and just pop it into the oven that day. It’s also nice to be able to make a few different pans (example – one with meat, one without, one with white sauce, etc.) We’ve had lasagna on Christmas night ever since!” – Christina, AWP volunteer.
“On Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, we take turns passing a special drinking horn (but really, any large cup will do to get started) and toasting loved ones who are no longer with us by sharing our favorite stories about them. That which is remembered, lives! When the kids were younger and didn’t yet know these stories, we also encouraged them to share their own tales about personal heroes (can’t tell you how many times I heard about Derek Jeter from the New York Yankees!) or someone like a neighbor or teacher who made a difference for the better in their lives. We also go around at least once to express what we’re grateful for in our lives. Over the years, it builds a strong sense of family continuity and connection.” – Mike, AWP staff
Several staff and volunteers also mentioned their family hanging holiday lights or using candles in the kitchen. That it was very magical to them as children – especially at night when the regular lights in the kitchen were off – and that their own kids/grandkids now enjoyed the tradition as well.
Year in and year out, another favorite activity has been to show a beloved movie (which can be borrowed free at the local library) such as “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” while baking holiday cookies or decorating the tree together.
Even when all goes well, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be very stressful. Here are some tips to cope with holiday stress:
- Go in with a plan. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Budget your time, too. Build a social agenda that prioritizes the most important activities, but don’t overcommit. You don’t have to do everything.
- Stick to your routine. Holidays offer many temptations to overindulge in food and drink and ignore sleep and exercise. As much as you can, stick to your normal routines and make healthy choices.
- Spend time with the people who mean the most. There’s pressure to socialize, but don’t overextend your emotional bandwidth. Prioritize time with your loved ones and limit your exposure to toxic people.
- Be generous with yourself and with others. Forgive yourself. Perform random acts of unexpected kindness for strangers.
- Focus on the positive. Be grateful. Don’t push for perfection.
However you celebrate and whatever you choose to do… we wish you a warm, safe, relaxed, and empowered holiday season. And don’t forget… if you need us, we’re always here! Call AWP’s domestic violence hotline at 800.220.8116. It’s free, confidential, and available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week